THE FOOTWEAR VIRTUOSO JOINS THE TRIBE
Entrepreneurialism is freedom of choice…
My entrepreneurial spirit came as a kid. I think it was because we wanted to have our own money. I am from a big family, there are six of us. We lived at the highest peak of Leeds, one summer there were loads of strawberries, gooseberries and raspberries, we set up a stall and sold them. I must have been six or seven years old.
I recall being at school and being made to wait with the ‘smelly’ kids for free school dinners. I remember complaining at home that they made us all wait and decided that I wasn’t going to do that. I had packed lunch instead.
Style for me is about what makes me feel good…
My mum would say you can buy fashion but you can not buy style. From a young age I was interested in clothes and the way I put them together. I felt my own sense of affluence, which didn’t mean I treated people differently because of what they wore just that I would really work hard to get what I wanted. I would pay down money on clothes I wanted on a weekly basis, even by today’s terms they were expensive. The owners of the shops (who later became clients) would laugh because I was the only one of that age doing that in their shops.
Everyone makes mistakes it’s about trying to learn from them. Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you get it wrong. I’m a worker, so if something does not work out I rebound. That is how I am. If you go backwards in a situation, remember why you got into what you are doing. In business I think it is important to look at other peoples interest when you’re looking at your own, both parties should be happy. Also be who you say you are and stick by that.
Define your approach to footwear?
My model of footwear is relevant for now, which means that it is always going to change. Less is more, I focus on the fit, the way they make you feel and the material then complements that. You have got to understand what people are attracted to but you’ve got to like it also. I don’t want Justin Deakins to be just classic shoes, as the style of shoes always evolves.
Like a lot of designers I started manufacturing in England but now I have moved production out to Italy because of my frustration with limitations. I have been to factories that are not very nice. I have seen the distribution of wealth and it changed my mind about where to manufacture shoes.
“The learning process is constant”
How did you start your journey in shoes?
The learning process is constant, I’m still learning things about making shoes now. I started off as a printer and got a Saturday job in a Leeds’ shop called Union, the owner also had a shop in Sheffield. I left my job in printing and within a short space of time I was taken to Paris and London to buy. Whilst experiencing this I was working out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to do it. I had friends who had clothes shops and I thought about how I was going to create my own venture.
The idea for shoes started in 1990, I went from literally seeing a gap to having an idea. At the time not even Paul Smith were doing men’s shoes. There was Patrick Cox who had an expensive price point and then there was Red or Dead whose men’s side weren’t very good. Nothing existed in the middle that retailed at a £100.00, which was the magic price point of that time. In comparison ladies shoes seemed to have a really good market with designers like Katharine Hamnett and Vicky Pratt.
What was the catalyst for designing shoes?
I got together with a friend of mine who was studying women’s wear at the time. After working on some designs together we started a company. We both moved back to our parents house so that we could set the business up. This was before the days of the internet, we used Leeds library to search for factories in Northampton. We visited about 25 factories, and ended up working with the one who manufactures WJ brogues, and who inspired the film; Kinky Boots. The factory really let us get involved in the entire shoe making process. Looking back now I recognise it was a paid apprenticeship. We were able to go on the factory floor and that kind of thing wouldn’t happen now.
The first samples were rubbish, the idea was better but the shape was wrong. When it’s your money you work out quite quickly that if you make up a shit shoe it is not going to sell and you’re going to lose your money! As the business grew I wanted to design different shoes. I saw things changing but I was getting frustrated, I saw the sneakers taking off. I thought of the fashion sneaker. I decided to move to London, what happened after that proved to be a much bigger part of my life. I was determined not to fail.